Teresa Ferris is mad.
She recently paid her airline a $100 “unaccompanied minor” fee when her son flew alone from Oakland to Los Angeles. It didn’t buy her much, she says.
“After he landed, there was no record on the computer of him flying as an unaccompanied minor,” Ferris remembers. “I couldn’t get the paperwork needed to pass security to meet him at the gate in time.”
Her son walked off the plane on his own and found his way to the baggage claim area alone. Ferris complained, and the airline refunded her $100 fee and offered her a $100 voucher toward a future flight.
“I’m disappointed, because I would have to spend money to get any additional compensation,” she says. “Am I stuck with it?”
No, you’re never stuck with an answer a company gives you. But there’s an art to a successful appeal. Here are the five steps.
Write back — if you can.
Often, a company will send a make-good offer via email, as they did with Ferris. The easiest way to let it know you don’t like the offer is, obviously, to say so. But that’s sometimes easier said than done. Too often, the email ends with: “Please do not respond to this email as this mailbox is not monitored.” Oh, really? You’re sending an offer and you don’t care if I like it? Puh-leeze!
Find someone who can give you a “yes.”
There’s always an executive who can overrule an insincere and seemingly arbitrary offer, but finding that person can be exceedingly difficult. I’ve spent the last three years digging up the names, email addresses and phone numbers of the right customer service managers. If you need to appeal, that list is a great place to start.
Know what to say.
A written appeal to the right person is just the first step. You also have to know what to say, which isn’t always easy. Consider Ferris’ case. Are there any rules her airline broke when it lost the records of her unaccompanied minor? Did it violate any laws? As far as I can tell, the only thing it did was to make this customer a very nervous mother. A successful appeal would find a way to encapsulate that frustration into a succinct, emotion-free missive, and that takes some thoughtful consideration.
Offer a sensible resolution.
A company can’t read your mind, so in addition to expressing your frustration in a polite and coherent way, you have to offer a reasonable resolution. If a voucher being refunded along with the fee wasn’t enough, then what would work? Ferris wanted a round-trip ticket for her trouble, and she was willing to put that in writing. That seems like a more realistic request than, say, a round-trip voucher in first class (a common mistake novice complainers make).
Be reasonable about your chances.
Some cases are easier to appeal than others. After I reviewed Ferris’ grievance, I concluded her airline’s proposed settlement was relatively generous, but that it can’t hurt to ask for more. My advice? Hope for the best but expect another “no” from her airline. Normally, airlines don’t give round-trip vouchers for a failure to allow Mom to meet her son at the gate — but you never know.
I’m still waiting to hear back from Ferris about her grievance. I hope her airline can figure out a way to make her happy, but experience tells me that her appeal will need to strike the right chord. It’ll need to be calm, articulate, sensible — and it’ll need to reach the right person.
Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can’t. He’s the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes weekly columns for King Features Syndicate, USA Today, and the Washington Post. If you have a consumer problem you can’t solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter. Read more of Christopher’s articles here.